Treating Asthma in Children
Step 2 -- Anticipating and Preventing Asthma Flare-Ups continued...
At home, a peak flow meter (a hand-held tool that measures breathing ability) can be used to measure airflow although it's usually used only for those with severe asthma. When peak flow readings drop, airway inflammation may be increasing. The peak flow meter can detect even subtle airway inflammation and obstruction, even when your child feels fine.
Another way to know when a flare is brewing is to look for early warning signs. These signs are little changes in a child that signal medication adjustments may be needed (as directed in a child's individual asthma management plan) to prevent a flare. Early warning signs may indicate a flare hours or even a day before the appearance of obvious flare symptoms (such as wheezing and coughing). Children can develop changes in appearance, mood, or breathing, or they may say they "feel funny" in some way. Early warning signs are not always definite proof that a flare is coming, but they are signals to plan ahead, just in case. It can take some time to learn to recognize these little changes, but over time, recognizing them becomes easier.
Parents with very young children who can't talk often find early warning signs very helpful in predicting and preventing attacks. And early warning signs can be helpful for older children and even teenagers because they can learn to sense little changes in themselves. If they are old enough, they can adjust medication by themselves according to the asthma management plan, and if not, they can ask for help.
Step 3 -- Taking Medications As Prescribed
Developing an effective medication plan to control a child's asthma can take a little time and trial and error. Different drugs work more or less effectively for different kinds of asthma, and some drug combinations work well for some children but not for others.
There are two main categories of asthma medications: quick-relief medications (rescue medications) and long-term preventive drugs (controller medications) (see Treatment of Asthma). Asthma drugs treat both symptoms and causes, so they effectively control asthma for nearly every child. Over-the-counter drugs, home remedies, and herbal combinations are not substitutes for prescription asthma medication because they cannot reverse airway obstruction and they do not address the cause of many asthma flares. As a result, asthma is not controlled by these nonprescription drugs, and it may even become worse with their usage.
Step 4 -- Controlling Flare-Ups by Following Your Asthma Action Plan
When you follow the first three steps of asthma control, your child will have fewer asthma symptoms and flare-ups. Remember that any child with asthma can still have an occasional asthma attack, particularly during the learning period between diagnosis and control or after exposure to a very strong or new trigger. With proper patient education, having the right medications on hand, and keen observation, families can learn to control most minor asthma flare-ups by starting treatment early, which will mean less emergency room visits and fewer admissions, if any, to the hospital.
Your doctor should provide a written step-by-step plan outlining exactly what to do if a child has a flare-up. The plan is different for each child. Over time, families learn to recognize when to start treatment early and when to call the doctor for help.